To continue my recent run-of-form around meeting Olympic Gold Medallists, I was extremely excited to grab a breakfast with Victoria Pendleton last week. For any of you who’ve recently been living under a soundproof rock for the past decade, she’s the talismanic British cyclist who won Gold in Beijing 2008 and London 2012 for her exploits in Sprint and Keirin respectively, along with 12 further shiny 24-carat discs from various other international championships! She is a decorated athlete in every sense, and I got the chance to pick her brains at the Macmillan Cycletta (to whom she is an Ambassador) press event hosted at London’s Rosewood Hotel; we chomped away on organic porridge & slurped healthy juices, whilst blissfully winding down in the Unlisted ‘Recovery Zone’. Also in attendance was Victoria’s upcoming ‘Breast Cancer Care Triathlon’ mock-nemesis, the other key ambassador for the Triathlon, Mel C of Spice Girls fame, who was just so charming in person! Click MORE to read our group interview with Victoria for a window into the mind of an elite Olympic mega-champion, and great all-round woman! Faya x
Do you ever feel that you lack motivation, and if you do, what gets you motivated again?
As an athlete, i never really struggled with the motivation, because it was my job. I was privileged in that. You can’t pull a sickie for no reason! But also, for me, it’s all very well to turn the pedals in anger and lift weights like your life depends on it, but for me I always thought that there’s someone in China, or Russia, who’s training today, and they’re training harder than me today. It was never an option to discard motivation, because they will beat me on race day. My approach was ‘I have to do it, I have to do it better than everyone else is doing it if I want to go for the line’. Now that translates as I want to look a certain way, enjoy my food, not feel guilty about what I eat, feel good about my body and my health, look after myself… If you want to achieve that, then you have to pitch in. There’s no way of avoiding it. That’s what keeps me motivated now. The end result is clear in my mind, and that takes hard work, dedication and discipline. When it gets hard and I push myself, it’s a lot more rewarding than when it comes easily, because you think ‘well done you, you turned that around, pat on the back, feel tired but smug all day’!
What sort of physique or mindset do you think you need to be a cyclist?
Cycling is something that doesn’t require a particular body type, or a specific set of skills. As long as you practise and you build your confidence on a bike, anybody can do it. It’s low impact, so in terms of joint pain, wear-and-tear, it’s relatively risk free really! it’s more of a confidence thing; a lot of people see it as something they don’t feel used to. You just need to practice in an environment that’s safe, and comfortable; maybe on a cycle track, or a lane with no traffic, and just get on! If you feel confident in your ability, you don’t think twice about being out there on the bike!
How have you found the training for the Running segment of the Triathlon rather than the Cycling part?
I’ve really enjoyed running. Since I retired, I’ve done quite a lot of it, just to do something different. As a cyclist, I wasn’t allowed to do any running, because of the risk of injury. It’s been quite fun doing something completely different. Also I’ve been running with the dogs quite a lot, they love it, I love it, so everyone’s a winner! I’ve looked forward to it for a long time, being able to run with a doberman.
If you couldn’t run whilst you were cycling, what other sort of cross training would you do?
For cycling it was mainly weights orientated, as I was a spring cyclist. But I’m also a big supporter of doing core stability work, combined with cycling. It is quite hard on your back and lower back: if you don’t have strong core muscles, it can cause a little discomfort on the shoulders and lower back. I did a lot of Pilates as an athlete, and I still do it, as I find it great to alleviate the general wear-and-tear back pain, and generally help to manage that.
In terms of keeping hydrated, do you drink water, sports drinks etc?
I think it’s useful to have a drink with some electrolytes within them, you can always just dilute them. Sports drinks can be quite strong so I like to dilute them down a bit, or maybe have coconut water mixed with normal water. Having a carbohydrate quality to a drink slows energy-emptying, so you’ll absorb more of it.
Women’s cycling event coming up on tour; what do you make of that addition to the cycling calendar?
Not my distance as a sprint cyclist, but great for road racers to showcase their skills. There’s a big gap between the genders there, girls get a bit of a raw deal on the road, whilst it’s more even on the track. It gives younger girls something to aspire to, and work towards.
How often do you get treatments and massage done?
As a full time elite athlete, I used to have a weekly leg and back massage, and 1-2 physio treatments per week, which might involve some myofascial release of sorts, and have a massage element to it. Often I’d have a lot of acupuncture as well, i found that the trigger point acupuncture relieved a lot of the tension quite accurately without much damage, where massage can be quite bruising on the tissue, followed by stiffening, depending on how deep they want to go. The guys on the road have a light rub, an effleurage, every day almost, but what I needed was more deep tissue. Be careful how much you have if you’re not used to it, because it does take a lot out of your body and your system, whilst recovering from that breakdown… and also I bruise like a peach!
If you could only do one exercise again in your life, what would it be?
Probably cycle! I love running, i like the fact that you can get the intensity in a short space of time as well, you have to be totally focussed on that moment, but I LOVE the freedom that cycling gives you, and the fact that you can go and explore the views etc. It gives you that extra element of reach and freedom, and enjoying the environment around you; I love being outdoors, and going to new places, so it would definitely just be cycling.
What do you think of hybrid bikes, for someone who’s not used to road cycling perhaps?
I think they’re a wonderful thing for someone who’s getting into cycling or looking to do events like the Cycletta. It gives you a bit more stability than a road bike would, and also the handlebar position (for someone who hasn’t ridden on dropped handlebars before), can be a little more comforting and easier to get used to. So I think that having a bike that suits multiple scenarios is a great place to start, so that you can get more out of it. The tyres tend to be a little thicker to help with stability and confidence.
What’s the importance of women-only events like Cycletta?
It’s the fact that the environment is a lot less intimidating. Having been brought up and worked in a male only environment my whole life, it’s definitely a different experience that this creates. When guys get involved, it’s always about how fast you go, what’s your best time, how many miles did you get in… it all becomes very performance orientated, rather than ‘what did you achieve, did you enjoy it’ and all the social elements of it. It’s far less intimidating, and approaching it for the first time is far more manageable, and you can band together, get your friends involved, and make it a social team pitch-in, stick together event!
When you’re preparing for an event, do you have lucky charms or superstitions?
I was very disciplined with the way I approached my training as an athlete. I had to do everything precisely; a certain time required on the road, I’d go directly to that time. For me it was always about the precision and discipline rather than superstitions, but that gave me the confidence going into the competitions, even though it was probably to very small margins. I didn’t have lucky socks!
Since you’ve retired, is there any other active sport you’ve tried that you weren’t able to do in the past?
I had been skiing before I became a professional cyclist; there’s absolutely no way the two were compatible. I’ve really enjoyed getting back into skiing, it’s a huge rush, one of the most fun sports out there, so that’s been a big thing for me. But I have a list as long as my arm of things I’d like to do. I want to get tennis lessons, I’ve been to the driving range a few times and I want some golf lessons (I’ve got all the gear, no idea), I’d like open-water swimming lessons (Kerri-Ann Payne said she’d give me some tips – learn from the best!). I’d love to play field hockey again too, and even get involved with track & field too – being in a small arena, doing laps. It all feels familiar. if I had the time, I’d literally do everything, except cricket, which I tried last week, and i was fairly poor.
Do you feel that you’ve got a duty to encourage young people and the nation as a whole to get involved in cycling, and what have you learned to pass on?
I do feel a little responsibility, but for me it comes down to the fact that I have been blessed with the opportunity I was given. I used to be the most shy, timid, background-fading child, and sport has given me so many options, opportunities and confidence. That aside is for me to say ‘get involved in sport, it can give you so much’. It keeps you balanced as a human, and I feel a lot happier when I’m participating in sport, I get a sense of achievement! From my own experience, I want to encourage it, but also as someone who has a profile through sport, it’s certainly worth me using that platform to TRY and get someone involved!
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